So far this year, four of the haunted houses for Halloween Horror Nights have been announced, and all have a pop culture tie-in.
At the event this year, you’ll see houses based on Silent Hill, the Walking Dead, Alice Cooper, and Penn & Teller. Three of those houses are original, while Halloween Horror Nights in Hollywood has previously had an Alice Cooper house.
Are tie-in houses good, or is it better to have original ideas? That’s a hard question to answer because it’s based on your personal preferences.
I go to Halloween Horror Nights every year and visit on as many nights as possible. The event has had many tie-in houses in the past, as well as original themes. Here are some considerations for original vs. pop culture based houses:
-Tie-in houses have instant recognition. People respond to brand names, so tie-in houses can be a draw. For example, when the park featured Freddy, Jason, and Leatherface in 2007, it built huge excitement among fans of those movie franchises. I’m a big “Nightmare” fan, so I was very excited about a Freddy-themed house. This year, my most anticipated house is Penn & Teller, and I expect it to wow me, which leads into the next point.
Tie-in houses build high expectations. When you link up with a well-known name, you have a lot to live up to. For example, with the “Nightmare” house, I expected it to be just as terrifying as the movies. Fortunately, it lived up to my expectations. The same was true of “Saw,” which Universal pulled off amazingly well. However, that name recognition can easily backfire
Tie-in houses mean fewer original concepts. While I like seeing my favorite pop culture franchises brought to life, some of my all-time favorite houses, like Catacombs and Leave It To Cleaver, have been originals.
The tie-in houses also take up space that could be used for Halloween Horror Nights-created franchises. For example, the Psychoscareapy series of houses is classic (especially Home for the Holidays), and last year’s Saws & Steam: Into the Machine was an amazing extension of the previous year’s scare zone.
Tie-in houses are often scene-based rather than full of constant old-school scares. This was true of both the Wolfman and Saw houses in years past. Both of those houses had some amazing special effects, but you totally missed them if your timing wasn’t just right. For example, I’m sure many people who went through Wolfman only once never got to marvel at the transformation scene or the big finish.
The Thing house in 2011 also has this limitation. The grand finale was quite an impressive spectacle, but only if you managed to walk by just as it was happening. Otherwise, you’d walk out and say, “So that’s it?”
As a local, I go to the event so much that I quickly learn how to time my walk-through just right to get the maximum effect. Unfortunately, many people don’t get that luxury. They go through houses that are amazing if you catch all the special effects, yet they’re shrugging their shoulders and saying “meh” because they missed everything.
This limitation can apply to any house, like Legendary Truth, although I’ve noticed it the most in tie-in houses. Meanwhile, some “generic” themes, like Havoc and Catacombs from 2010, had scares around every corner and wore me out by the time I reached the end.
Some of the movie houses accomplish this, too. Most notably, Doomsday in 2008 was packed with movie elements, yet it depended heavily on traditional scare techniques rather than elaborate, timed scenes.
It’s still too early to know how everything will come together, but those are my considerations based on past experience.
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